Today in Literary History – February 15, 1883 – Sax Rohmer, author of the Fu Manchu books is born

Arthur Ward, who wrote mystery novels about the evil mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu under the pseudonym “Sax Rohmer,” was born in Birmingham, England on February 15, 1883.

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Ward began his writing career scripting comedy sketches and humorous songs for Music Hall acts. He developed his fictional character the nefarious Chinese master criminal Dr. Fu Manchu alongside his own fictional persona as Sax Rohmer. Rohmer was usually photographed in Oriental robes and claimed to have various occult connections and experience of the Far East.

He published his first Fu Manchu book (The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu) in 1913. In it he describes Fu Manchu as “the yellow peril personified.” The novels made Rohmer rich and famous, but there were constant protests from the Chinese communities in England and America about the inherent racism in all of the books and later film adaptations.

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Fu Manchu was played in early films by Warner Oland, a white actor who would go on to fame starring in the Charlie Chan films. Boris Karloff played him in 1932’s The Mask of Fu Manchu and Christopher Lee portrayed him in five films in the 1960s.

During his career Rohmer wrote dozens of other successful crime and horror novels not featuring Fu Manchu, but often using exotic themes or characters spun-off from the Fu Manchu stories. He died in 1959, ironically enough after having contracted a strain of the Asian Flu.

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Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu

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